What do hummingbirds eat? – their diet explained, plus tips on providing food in your yard

Give these feathered friends a helping hand by offering a variety of food sources

green hummingbird and pink flower
(Image credit: Octavio Campos Salles / Alamy Stock Photo)

As temperatures warm, the sight of a hummingbird or two becomes an exciting prospect. These colorful creatures may be tiny but they're a delight to watch, especially if it's from your own patio or kitchen window.

It's no surprise that many homeowners look for ways to attract hummingbirds to their backyard – and providing food is one of the best ways to do so. However, it's not just sugar water that these feathered friends feed on, as this guide explains.


Putting out feeders filled with shop-bought or homemade hummingbird nectar will encourage a visit from these feathered friends. Planting nectar-rich flowers that attract hummingbirds will also provide this important source of food.

However, as Kelsey Waddell (an expert from WildBirdScoop.com) and Zach Hutchinson (Owner of FlockingAround.com), reveal, their diet is more varied than this. 'In fact, a diet of only nectar and sugar water would not sustain a hummingbird beyond a few days,' Zach says. 'Consider the sugar goodness provided by flowers and feeders to be the recharge needed by hummingbirds when they plug their bills in. This gives them the energy to find and consume the other main component of their diet, arthropods.'

More Birds Red Glass Hummingbird Feeder | $24.87 from Amazon

More Birds Red Glass Hummingbird Feeder | $24.87 from Amazon
This glass hummingbird feeder has five flower-shaped feeding ports and looks super stylish hanging from a hook or branch. The red color will help to attract these feathered friends.

 Zachariah Hutchinson
Zach Hutchinson

Zach Hutchinson is the owner of FlockingAround.com and an ornithologist striving to ignite bird conservation globally. He is also the creator of the Great Wyoming Birding Trail and the author of Birding in Yellowstone National Park. Zach has banded and tagged over 15,000 wild birds and has efforted to protect birds for over a decade. However, he also crawled in the muck and grime in the world of reptiles and amphibians (and loved every moment) before his work with birds, as he worked in alligator conservation on the gulf coast to mitigate human and alligator conflicts.

Kelsey Waddell
Kelsey Waddell

Kelsey is a freelance writer and amateur backyard-bird enthusiast living in southern Virginia. From the moment she moved from the suburbs to her current rural home, she was struck by the sights and sounds of the abundant wildlife. She's been watching, learning, and trying to attract more feathered friends ever since. 

hummingbirds around feeder

Hummingbird feeders will attract these creatures

(Image credit: Cavan Images / Alamy Stock Photo)


Zach explains how insects provide the protein and other nutrients necessary for hummingbirds' healthy bone and feather growth.

'In flight, hummingbirds will "hawk" insects by catching them mid-flight,' says Zach. 'What often appears as indiscriminate flight patterns is actually our favorite hummers hunting insects that are often too small for our eyes to see without a closer perspective. 

'Included in the list of insects taken in flight include small bees, flies, gnats, mosquitoes, and spiders (spiders do not fly, per se. Instead, they float with style).

'These are not the only arthropods taken,' he continues. 'These feathered friends also help control other insects by "gleaning" aphids off of plants. They will even eat the larvae and eggs of moths, butterflies, and other invertebrates.'

Avoiding pesticides, using organic gardening practices, and planting a variety of flowers and shrubs will help to keep insect populations up and therefore attract more hummingbirds, Kelsey explains.


If nectar and insects aren't readily available, hummingbirds can feed on sap. 'Hummingbirds will use the sap wells of sapsuckers, a type of woodpecker,' says Zach. 'These sap wells are drilled open by the sapsuckers, and then the wells fill with the sticky lifeblood of the tree. 

'Hummingbirds will use this sap as a backup resource, but just as importantly, hummingbirds will consume the insects that are attracted to, and get stuck in, the sap.'

'Consider planting trees that produce sap, such as maple or birch,' recommends Kelsey. 'If you already have these trees in your yard, you’re in luck – just be sure to avoid using any chemicals or pesticides on these trees.'

hummingbird and flower

Hummingbirds have a varied diet

(Image credit: Christina Rollo / Alamy Stock Photo)

Overall, hummingbirds need a mix of food sources to thrive, just like humans. And growing native flowers, bushes, and trees in your yard is a great way to offer this, as Zach advises.

'These all can provide nectar and sap, but just as importantly, native insects depend upon native plants,' he says. Plus, the plants will create a beautiful botanical display for you to admire, too.

Holly Crossley
Contributing Editor

The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then; over the years, she's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator. Having worked for Gardeningetc.com for two years, Holly now regularly writes about plants and outdoor living for Homes & Gardens.